Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Secular cowardice in the face of name-calling.

Since taking part in International Day to Defend Amina earlier this month I've come in for heavy criticism for being "Islamophobic", "culturally imperialist", even plain racist for opposing the human rights violations that stem from Islam.  You may or may not agree with these labels; I don't myself, but as the days went by I heard the same accusations repeated so many times I did start to wonder if I might be missing something.  I also reflected that even IF the criticisms were in themselves unjustified it was still possible for the misperception to be so widespread as to render my actions counterproductive, even on mistaken grounds.

With this in mind, I emailed one of the administrators at the Council of Ex-Muslims Forum to ask his advice on how people like me - who have never been Muslims -  can best support ex-Muslims and other victims of the more vicious doctrines of Islam, and oppose threats arising from Islam to secular values.

He wrote back to me very swiftly, and acknowledged the difficulty that can arise both from supporting ex-Muslims and from criticising Islam:

(I hope my distaste for organisations like the EDL goes without saying, but just in case; no, I absolutely do not want to ally myself with such groups.)

Having acknowledged the delicate balancing act, however, my correspondent went on to say the following, which I think is crucial:

On first reading my response to this was to think "I don't even have to be public and outspoken?  What can that possibly achieve?"

But I've thought about it a little more since I received the email, and actually I think a very valid point is made.  So often I say to religious people - most often to Catholics, but the principle can be generalised - that their personal acceptance of the fact that (for example) the use of condoms is beneficial in preventing the spread of HIV is meaningless if they continue to lend tacit support to the power base of the Catholic church.  The Vatican is able to campaign against condom use in Africa and other places plagued by HIV because it is able to bring to bear the political weight of over a billion Catholics - if a significant number of those people stood up to oppose this monstrous policy (or, better yet, left the church - although I accept that this is not easily done), it could not continue.

The point is that numbers do matter.

I've written before on the duty I think atheists have to speak out against the evils of religion, and I don't think there's any excuse to shirk this duty when it comes to Islam - we must oppose such atrocities as "honour" killings, FGM, forced marriage, the oppression of women.  We who have never been Muslims are in some senses better positioned to argue against Islam than those who have been because - generally speaking - the risks we take in doing so are less than those taken by former Muslims.  Islam punishes apostasy harshly; the consequences of being known to have abandoned the faith range from ostracism and abuse to death.  The worst I can reasonably expect to get for denouncing Islam as one of the greatest evils we face in this century is name-calling - mostly from others who have never been Muslims.

Well, I can live with being called an Islamophobe and I can even live with being called racist - if the alternative is to sit back and allow people who face far greater threats to stand alone.  It's fairly clear why the accusations of bigotry flow so freely when Islam is criticised - they work.  But ask yourself; when a Christian accuses you of being a bigot, of "persecuting" them when you oppose their (assumed) right to stop gay people marrying, do you accept the criticism and shut up?  Does their accusation of bigotry prevent you from arguing against Christianity, or do you explain why you're not a bigot and keep arguing?

Why, then, does being called an Islamophobe shut you up?  Why do you adopt the term and throw it at people like me?  Would you call me a bigot, or culturally insensitive, when I tell Christians their religion doesn't give them the right to stop people getting married?

People who oppose Islam do so in the face of great adversity and even danger; to refuse to lend them your support out of fear of being called a nasty name is simply cowardice.

So visit the CEMB Forum, follow them on Twitter, lend the weight of your numbers even if you don't want to take a more active role in helping their work.  Every person who supports those who fight Islam makes their task a little easier.


  1. If you're an Islamaphobe then you must also be a mushroomaphobe, and my Leeds United supporting friend is a manchester Unitedaphobe, where does this nonsense end? Speaking critically of anything does not make you guilty of hate crime.

  2. We walk a delicate line by being vocal in a world filled with religion when we are not "religious." Religion really is a shared delusion. I will never understand/ am incapable of understanding why people can so readily swallow unproven facts other than "I want this to be true so bad." But simply wanting something doesn't mean you're going to get it. The universe does not owe anyone an explanation of "why we are here." And in fact, the entire creation of the universe can happen without the presence of a god.

    I do not believe you are an islamaphobe. I believe you are sane, and I trust your opinion far more than that belonging to a religious person.

  3. I truly believe they like to toss out the word "Islamophobe" to detract attention from their intolerance of Western culture. It became clear to me when I read this article http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/as-canadian-muslims-we-must-stand-up-to-threats-from-within/article11496517/ She refers to a (Western) youth culture emphasized by alcohol, sex, and materialism. Guess what would happen if anyone dared to stereotype a muslim in a similar fashion? They don't approve of our "depraved" society, but by shouting "Islamophobe" they hope to hide that fact as best they can.

  4. Base name calling - from ANY group - is just proof that your opponent doesn't have a cogent argument to field. Every time they name call us, we win.

  5. Its a strawman argument, right? If you are a '-phobe' then they don't have to consider what you are saying and follow where it leads. They say it more as a self defense mechanism than an attack on you.

    Thanks for your work on this site. Really enjoying.

  6. It is very difficult in some settings to criticize Islam especially but also Christianity and Judaism. It's sad that so many atheists feel the need to use nom de plumes online for fear of reprisals. Because we do not have a 'sacred' belief we are open to abuse and discrimination. What is an islamophobe? A fear of Islam? Nothing wrong with that. A dislike? Ditto. An irrational fear? Not rational criticism then. Muslims? It is their belief not themselves that is criticized. I suspect that most who throw the name about don't know what they mean.
    (Good post - but on my phone I can't read the email extracts, too small)

  7. Stop referring to it as FGM. This is just allowing the reader to skim over an acronym without the full horror of FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION being appreciated. On Twitter I can understand the use of an acronym but in a full blog post with no space restrictions its use is just hiding it in an ocean of acronyms, one of millions in this abbreviated, capitalized, initialized, acronymed world.